Owning a Senior Dog
Just like humans, dogs get older and this ageing process varies considerable among the different breeds. Small breed dogs like Yorkshire terriers for example only enter the senior stage around 10 or 11 years of age whereas giant breed dogs like Great Danes are considered to be “senior citizens” as early as 5 to 6 years of age. Large breed dogs like a German Shepherd fall somewhere in between and would be deemed to be a senior around 8 to 10 years.
No matter what breed or size of dog you own there are many common signs associated to the ageing process. Your dog may develop arthritis or any of the many other degenerative diseases that cause him to become less mobile. He may tire more easily and become reluctant to play any games that require him to run around too much. He may become hesitant to climb steps or to jump into the car for a visit to the park. Being grumpy or less tolerant towards the younger dogs in the family may also manifest itself in his general behaviour.
So what are some of the more important things we can do to make sure our senior dogs have a happy healthy “retirement” ?
Regular veterinary check-ups
Regular physical examinations by the vet may reveal age related health issues like arthritis, liver or kidney diseases etc. If treated early the impact on his comfort levels can be considerably improved.
Carefully monitor his diet
It is very important that you provide your senior dog with an age appropriate diet. As the older dog exercises less frequently he has a tendency to gain weight which should be avoided for obvious reasons. Weight loss is also something that needs to be monitored as this could be an indication that he has a medical condition that needs to be checked-out.
A number of age related ailments can be well managed and controlled with an appropriate diet.
Observing behaviour changes is important in all your dogs but doubly so for senior dogs. Watch particularly for changes in his eating habits and water consumption as well as his urinary and bowel movements. Any changes could be a symptom of a medical condition or disease. If he suddenly becomes irritable or aggressive he could be in pain or discomfort. Any unusual behaviour or change in your senior dog’s regular habits should prompt a visit to the veterinarian.
Just because he has reached his senior years it does not mean he needs to be put out to pasture. Regular exercise will help to control his weight and also give him mental stimulation. However, tailor the exercise program to his requirements and don’t over exert him with long inappropriate walks. Allow him to dictate the speed and distance. Remember too do not exercise him in unsuitable weather conditions i.e. when it is too hot or in cold wet conditions.
There is no harm in giving your senior dog a little bit more pampering, particularly if he has a health issue like arthritis or any other joint condition. A soft bed with comfortable blankets will help him rest easier and sleep sounder. Make sure his bed is in a dry and draft free area. Also consider placing some carpeting down on slippery tiled surfaces to help him move around more easily.
Always remember all the good years your senior dog gave you and try and make his final years equally as good !
By Gordon, Trainer